08 October 2008

Buying a house in France, part III

Even if are moving to the French countryside because you don't want to have people living on the other side of your walls — "you don't move to the country with the hope that you will be able to hear the neighbor's toilet flushing," someone said — how isolated and out of the way do you want your house to be? Do you want to have neighbors you might socialize with, learn from, speak French with, and ask for advice? Or is the most important thing being out in the country and having the feeling that there is really nobody close by?

If you are far from town, will you need a big freezer to help you minimize the number of trips to the supermarket you need to make per week? How far away is the closest bank? What about a bakery where you can buy croissants and fresh bread? Do you want a 25-mile round-trip on narrow winding roads, in good weather or bad, to be part of every shopping expedition?

One of our big birch trees started dying from the top down.
Yesterday, we had a man come over and cut the top out of it.

We hope that the "surgery" will save the tree.

And don't forget to ask if the local bread baker has a daily delivery service. Having to get in the car and drive several miles just for a baguette gets old, and you'll soon find yourself eating stale bread or going without. Croissants. Baguettes. Tartes. Those are part of the point of living here. The bread delivery truck, if there is one, is usually stocked with milk, eggs, butter, and cheese as well.

How big a house do you want? These days, that comes down to one big question: how much space do you want to have to heat, given the price of fuel oil, or natural gas, or even electricity? Several fireplaces in a house represent more opportunities to stack, cut, and haul wood around. And to clean out fireplaces after the fire has gone out. Fireplaces are charming, but they aren't really efficient.

Do you want to have some amount of land? Land is affordable in the Saint-Aignan area. How much land, then? Half an acre is a big lot. An acre? A hectare? Will you need a riding mower and a brush cutter to keep the weeds down? Is there a big hedge that needs regular trimming? Are there trees that need topping out or regular pruning? Are any of the trees sick to the point that they need to be cut down? Do you want to have a vegetable garden or a flower garden? Do you want to do the gardening and maintenance work yourself or are you planning to hire it done? Finding reliable gardeners can also be a chore.

If the house needs work that you don't know how to do yourself — plumbing, electricity, roof repairs, and so on — be prepared to have a hard time finding the contractors you need to do the work. There is a shortage of tradespeople in France, and the plumbers, roofers, electricians, and stonemasons have more work than they can keep up with. You have to chase them down. Call them and then call them again and even again, waiting for an answer. And once you find an artisan who is willing to talk to you, you have to talk in French. Using technical terms. And then you have to understand the answers.

Walt and I came into this fairly blind. We saw 15 houses in three days and we picked one. It wasn't so much that we fell in love with it. We weren't living a dream. Instead, we had a plan. We wanted a house in good condition that we could come spend vacations in. Or move right into if we decided to relocate immediately. We knew we didn't want an old house that might need major repairs and upgrades. Neither of us has the skills or experience required for undertaking such renovations and improvements.

The birch tree trimmings will make more firewood for us.
Of course, we have to cut it all up so that the pieces
will fit in the wood-burning stove.

We knew too that we wanted to be close enough to a small town or village so that shopping trips would be easy. We especially wanted a setting, an environment, just like the one we were lucky enough to find: a flat yard (not San Francisco-style hills) big enough for us to have a good-size vegetable garden, some privacy (provided here by an 8-foot-high hedge around most of the yard), and access to a lot of open space (the vineyard) for walking the dog.

We didn't know we wanted neighbors nearby — we hadn't thought about it, I guess — but we are glad we have them now. We have gotten a lot of good advice from them, and we have met a lot of other people thanks to nice neighbors. We don't hear any toilets flushing (except our own, and we had that flush-toilet put in ourselves — that's a whole other story) or much noise of any kind unless somebody is having a big outdoor party in the summertime. And then they often invite us. Now, as it turns out, one of our neighbors is the mayor of the village, and we are on good terms. That's never a bad thing.


  1. This is a dangerously seductive series. You have me looking at French real estate websites. Not good. When we got home from France we were facing two choices: solar or wind? Now it's become: solar, wind, or France?

    We can't afford it, it doesn't make sense for us, economic conditions everywhere are against the idea...but still I'm scheming.

  2. This series is fascinating, Ken. Having watched you go through the entire process of deciding to move and finding a house, it's so cool to read about the thought process and the considerations you weighed. How wonderful that it turned out better than you had hoped.


  3. Oh, and thanks for the dissertation on pone. Ray's loves cornbread, but I've never found a recipe that's just right. Too dry, too sweet, not sweet enough, you name it. Perhaps it's time to try corn pone instead.



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